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James Skinner

As expected,the ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time, just like Bette Davies in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’

‘I love old ships. Ever since I was a kid and travelled on one with my parents way back in the forties I’ve been fascinated by them. I keep weeping like a three year old every time I watch the ‘Titanic’ movie and see the old lady sink to the bottom of the Atlantic. Despite the dangers of being shipwrecked, it was not surprising that I should leap for joy when my wife suggested that we take a holiday in the form of an ocean cruise around the Greek islands. ‘God’, I thought. ‘I hope she doesn’t book us on one of those floating ice-cream cakes that have as much seaborne character as a plastic beach in the Bahamas!’ When she brought home a mountain of brochures from the travel agent, and started on a dissertation on the various options of our voyage, I had only one thought on my mind. ‘How old is the ship?’

Although the name of our floating hotel was still a mystery – the travel agent didn’t have clue – our itinerary was pretty clear. My other half had selected a week-plus ‘life on the ocean waves’ holiday that would take us to some of the well known spots in the western Mediterranean. This particular package included connecting flights from Barcelona to Athens, a traffic jammed bus ride to Piraeus to board our ship and apart from a couple of stops in Turkey, a hop-on hop-off journey to some of the most beautiful islands in Southern Europe. Whilst my wife was busy taking notes of the various sites and dilapidated old buildings we were meant to visit, I was preparing my own list of reporting utensils in order to write about our trip. Binoculars, tape recorder, notepad, ballpoint and my ‘for-fools-only’ camera were among the items, no fancy laptop nor telescopic lens. D-day arrived and we were all set. By the way, I should mention that it was our fortieth wedding anniversary and this mini voyage was the climax of a lifetime devoted to world-wide adventures, albeit wrapped in tinfoil!
After a routine set of flights – I can’t stand airports – a night stop at our Athens hotel. (Greece by the way, is preparing for the 2004 World Olympic Games and Athens is one enormous construction site. This includes all the known monuments which are held together with scaffolding) we arrived at – wait for it! – our ship. As expected, a sixties or seventies rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time, just like Bette Davies in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’. Her name was, very aptly the MTS ‘World Renaissance’. You can tell an old lady from the ‘chicken pox’ marks on her hull after years of paint. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed. I felt young again! I couldn’t wait to go onboard to check out all the other nooks and crannies of my floating museum.

Before we boarded, our tour guide had gone through all the possible excursions that were on offer during the journey. For those interested in paying the ‘extras’ a proper interpreter come guide plus a bored bus driver would keep you busy most days of the cruise. The list was pretty comprehensive. As if addressing a political rally and without taking a breather she blasted away: ‘Your first stop will be Istanbul, and here we will take you to see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia which is the Church of the Divine Wisdom and the Topkapi Palace. We will then end up in the famous Bazaar where you will be able to buy any article available on this earth and haggle to your heart’s content to pay the right price. The tour will cost 83 Euros per person!’. Whilst my wife was taking it all in and making notes, I kept thinking about the ‘smoke-room’. The guide went on: ‘Our next port of call will be Kusadasi, also in Turkey. Here we will first visit Ephesus, one of the most preserved ancient sites of the roman world…’ My mind was beginning to wander.

Listening to this petite woman in her mid.-forties go on about the tours, I began to picture the scenes. Each day, together with dozens of other camera laden and ‘T’ shirt clad tourists, I would receive an abridged version of Greek history prior to disembarking and boarding our awaiting bus. We would then arrive at our destination and meander through fields and fields of marble and stone as our tour guide would tell us how the Turks and the Greeks bashed each others brains out. As this brief history began to sink in, the abrupt cry of ‘this way please, hurry the bus is waiting!’ would bring you back to the present. Come six o’clock, about the average departure time, we’d go back to the ship for a quick shower, change of clothes and into our ‘bib a tucker’, a healthy meal, after dinner drinks and cigar, cabaret and finally ‘go-go’ dancing to pass the night away. All this, I suspected, would be awaiting you on board as you returned broken and bruised from so much mountain climbing and church hoping on the islands. These thoughts were going through my head even before I had actually walked up the gangplank. No way! I will not succumb to becoming a member of a human flock of sheep. As Frankie would say: ‘I’ll do it may way’. I’ll go it alone. I was beginning to figure out a plan that would include my wife as historical tour guide when it hit me!
Our tour guide (remember we’re still on the bus on the way to the ship) was repeating the phrase: ‘…without the virgin, it will cost only 45 Euros!’

Part Two - Life On Board next week May 8th
© James Skinner. 2002. May

James Skinner has a problem

Look, I’ve got these icons jumping about and some bastard in the Middle East is probably buying guns with my credit cards.

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